I feel that having the drinking age set so high leads to a unhealthy attitude toward alcohol consumption. Kids don’t learn how to drink in the presence of mature adults. Instead of drinking at home with their parents, where they have a better chance to learn how to enjoy alcohol responsibly, they learn to drink clandestinely with other teenagers, or if (snicker) they wait until they’re legal before taking their first sip (snort) they’re usually out on their own, again, with their friends, not with older adults. It seems to me that this had contributed to the rise in binge drinking, which is much more dangerous than more responsible drinking habits because it’s more likely to lead to acute alcohol poisioning as well as long term brain damage. (cite)
Now, even before you bring alcohol into the equation, teenage drivers have poorer judgement and are more susceptible to peer pressure when making decisions regarding speed, intoxicants, seat belts, and other factors. They tend to drive with more people in the car, leading to more distractions for the inexperienced driver. (cite,cite) Younger drivers get into more accidents than more mature drivers, even when the mature drivers have the same level of driving inexperience. (cite,cite,cite,cite)
The most common argument against raising the age to get a driver’s license in the U.S. is that many teens need to drive to get to work or school. However, it seems to me that teens aren’t getting into all of these accidents on the way to wholesome activities, since most teenage fatalities occured on the weekend, and more than 40% occurred between 9 pm and 6 am. (cite). Restricting when and for what purpose teenagers can drive rather than simply raising the driving age might be a reasonable compromise. “Graduated licensing” establishes different levels of licensure, prohibiting novice drivers from driving at night, or with teenage passengers. That strikes me as a really sane alternative to tossing the keys to a 16 year-old and saying, “Drive wherever and whenever you want, kid.”
I know if somebody hatched this plan when I was a teenager I would have been against it. But I also know, looking back, that I really wasn’t mature enough to be trusted with a vehicle when I was seventeen and got my license. My friends and I took a lot of stupid risks, like driving when the weather conditions sucked, and packing eight kids into a Chevy Nova on a regular practice. We’d have been more reliant on parents and public transportation if we couldn’t drive, but we’d have been a lot safer.